The effects of climate change in the arid and semi arid areas is pushing farmers away from maize farming, and many are opting to grow pulses.
Pulses or grain legumes include crops like beans, green grams, cowpeas, pigeon peas, dolichos, chickpeas and lentils. They are tolerant to drought.
According to the most recent Food Security Status report, the Kenya Government noted many farmers have reduced the acreage under maize in Kenya due to drought and emerging pests like the fall army worm. This is likely to impact on this year’s expected maize harvest with a reduction of about 25 percent.
Five years ago, Raphael Mutunga, who is the secretary for Kitise Farmers Cooperative Society grew maize in his three acre farm in Kathonzweni, Makueni County.
At a visit to Machakos Pulses Fair through the support of Eastern Africa Grain Council made him decide to start growing green grams instead of maize. Mutunga is a happy farmer because on a good season, he can harvest about four bags of 90 kgs green grams from an acre. His income from green grams is now almost times higher than that of maize. During a field visit to his farm in Makueni, Mutunga said even the price of a kilo of green grams is twice higher than that of maize.
“While a kilo of maize costs Sh40 or less in the local market, a kilo of green grams fetches between Sh70 to Sh80. I once sold a 90kg bag of green gram at Sh10,000, and with such an income, I can buy three to four 90kg bags of maize for my family need,” says Mutunga.
The retired teacher says today, he can now afford to supplement his family’s diet with meat and fruits. He has also been able to venture into horticulture farming.
He says through the cooperative, farmers have been able to get market for their produce and sell at a better price. EAGC with financial support from the Alliance for a Green Revolution for Africa (AGRA) has trained the farmers on production of quality grains and also linked them with market through business to business (B2B) forums.
B2B forums offer trainings to farmers on how to market their produce and negotiate with potential buyers as well as signing contracts with buyers and traders. Through the forums, EAGC also links farmers with potential buyers.
“We were able to sign a contract to produce four metric tonnes of green grams where we sold a kilo at Sh110 while the local market price was Sh90 per kilo. Currently, we have produced six tonnes of green grams and we storing in our aggregated centre in anticipation of a better price,” says Mutunga.
Serah Kilonzi, the project officer Kathonzweni Integrated Community Development Program says despite the challenges in maize farming, there are still farmers who do not want to abandon maize farming.
lack of water, climate change vagaries like high temperature and soils infertility among others.
“They (farmers) believe without maize, one is not farming and that anyone having a contrary view wants them to die of hunger. Even with low or no yields, they must grow maize,” she says.
Gerald Masila, the East Africa Grain Council chief executive officer says for the past few years, uptake of pulse farming has increased in production and acreage unlike maize farming which is dwindling especially in the arid and semi and areas.
“Many farmers are opting to grow pulses as they are fast maturing, taking 70-120 days while maize takes three to four months depending on the variety. The other advantage is that pulses are less affected by aflatoxin and they are high in protein,” says Masila.
Masila adds that the market prices for pulses are more stable unlike prices for maize which often fluctuate depending on the availability of the commodity in the market.
He however points out that the seed system is not well developed as most seed companies in the country do not supply pulse seeds.
Masila says EAGC is working with some farmers to produce seeds while others are producing the grains, in order to fill the gap in productivity of pulses in Kenya.
“There is huge potential in irrigation for pulses in the country, given that pulses consume less water and fertiliser compared to maize. The climatic condition in the arid and semi arid areas is favorable for growing pulses. This is the new cash crop for farmers in the arid areas,” Masila said.